“There was no doubt,” said Bob Bowman, Schmitt’s coach.
“I knew Allison was going to pull off something amazing,” Vollmer said.
So Schmitt did, lifting the American women to their first gold medal relay performance in eight years with a blistering leg that was nearly one-and-a-half seconds faster than any other woman on any other leg of any other team. This, to finish off a night in which decidedly out-of-the-spotlight Nathan Adrian stunned favored James Magnussen of Australia in the 100-meter freestyle — an outcome determined by a fraction of a finger’s snap, all of one one-hundredth of a second.
Throw in a world record by 200-meter breaststroker Rebecca Soni — a performance that came in a semifinal, but makes her the heavy favorite to lower that number in Thursday’s final — and Phelps and Lochte could step aside, swim some heats and cheer on what has become a loose, confident American team.
“We’re just starting to pick up more and more steam,” said Phelps, who swam only the preliminaries and semifinals of the 200-meter individual medley Wednesday. “Hopefully we can finish this.”
Wednesday was a large step toward that, and its stars weren’t those who dealt with unbearable buildup over the past few months. Adrian, 23, is known only to the swimming community — a winner on relays, but never with an individual medal at world championships or the Olympics. In the 100 freestyle, his opponents included Cesar Cielo, the world record holder from Brazil; Yannick Agnel, the hero of the victorious French 4x100 relay team; and Magnussen, who brashly arrived at the Olympics as part of an Australian men’s team that dubbed itself the “Weapons of Mass Destruction.”
So Adrian simply had to take himself to a different place. It’s not the Olympics.
“That’s the best place for me, being that fourth-grader on the playground kind of oblivious to it all,” Adrian said. “That’s where I’m comfortable.”
He’s also comfortable racing this tactical event from a deficit. He stood third at the midway point, and he was soon up against Magnussen, who swam with a reputation as a sterling closer. Adrian, overlooked all week, could have been forgotten again.
“That’s not motivation,” Adrian said. “It’s kind of comforting, to be honest. I like being a chaser. I don’t necessarily like being the one being chased.”